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Becoming Human

The Matter of the Medieval Child

2014
Author:

J. Allan Mitchell

Becoming Human

Can early concepts of being and becoming broaden our understanding of the human?

In Becoming Human, J. Allan Mitchell argues that human identity was articulated and extended across a wide range of textual, visual, and artifactual assemblages from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. While it makes significant contributions to medieval scholarship on the body, family, and material culture, the book theorizes anew what might be called a medieval ecological imaginary.

Becoming Human is a remarkable book, well nigh unclassifiable. This is an exemplary work in more than one sense: it opens up a new approach to the medieval period by way of its three examples; and it does so in a way that is a model of scholarship, keeping its balance between the responsible and the adventurous. While the book illuminates certain aspects of the medieval period, it does so in a way that also illuminates our own.

Peter Schwenger, author of At the Borders of Sleep: On Liminal Literature

Becoming Human argues that human identity was articulated and extended across a wide range of textual, visual, and artifactual assemblages from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. J. Allan Mitchell shows how the formation of the child expresses a manifold and mutable style of being. To be human is to learn to dwell among a welter of things.

A searching and provocative historical inquiry into human becoming, the book presents a set of idiosyncratic essays on embryology and infancy, play and games, and manners, meals, and other messes. While it makes significant contributions to medieval scholarship on the body, family, and material culture, Becoming Human theorizes anew what might be called a medieval ecological imaginary. Mitchell examines a broad array of phenomenal objects—including medical diagrams, toy knights, tableware, conduct texts, dream visions, and scientific instruments—and in the process reanimates distinctly medieval ontologies.

In addressing the emergence of the human in the later Middle Ages, Mitchell identifies areas where humanity remains at risk. In illuminating the past, he shines fresh light on our present.

Becoming Human

J. Allan Mitchell is associate professor of English at the University of Victoria. He is the author of Ethics and Eventfulness in Middle English Literature and Ethics and Exemplary Narrative in Chaucer and Gower.

Becoming Human

Becoming Human is a remarkable book, well nigh unclassifiable. This is an exemplary work in more than one sense: it opens up a new approach to the medieval period by way of its three examples; and it does so in a way that is a model of scholarship, keeping its balance between the responsible and the adventurous. While the book illuminates certain aspects of the medieval period, it does so in a way that also illuminates our own.

Peter Schwenger, author of At the Borders of Sleep: On Liminal Literature

This work makes one of the most important contributions that can currently be made to emerging work in post-continental philosophy. It offers fresh insights and perspectives to speculative realist thought that will actually help that thought to continue its important mission of disrupting settled overly human-centric ontologies, while also valuably correcting its historical blind-spots.

Eileen A. Joy, coeditor of Speculative Medievalisms

No work of scholarship has so engrossed me in a long while. Becoming Human is one of the best books published in medieval studies in the past decade.

J J Cohen, In the Middle blog

Becoming Human

Contents

Preface

Introduction
Being Born
Childish Things
The Mess
Epilogue

Notes
Index